Family members and colleagues of a Pittsburg police officer who was killed in 2005 while chasing down two robbery suspects packed a Martinez courtroom today for a re-sentencing hearing of one of the two defendants whose sentence was overturned in an appellate court ruling.
On April 23, 2005, Andrew Moffett, who was 17 years old at the time, paid a friend to steal a car for him. Later that day, Moffett and his friend Alexander Hamilton, who was 18 at the time, drove the stolen car to a Raley’s supermarket in Pittsburg. Wearing gloves and masks and armed with loaded guns, the two teens entered the supermarket. Moffett pressed his gun to the head of one cashier and ordered her to open the register or he would kill her while Hamilton went to a Wells Fargo branch bank inside the supermarket, waved his gun at two tellers and ordered them to give him money.
The two then fled in the stolen car, but crashed it a short distance away. They took off on foot, hopping fences through people’s backyards, until they came to the Delta de Anza trail. Moffett kept going, but Hamilton was hiding in the bushes as the first officers, 35-year-old Larry Lasater and his partner, got to the trail. As Lasater approached Hamilton, Hamilton shot him twice, dropping him to the ground.
When other officers came to his aid, Hamilton shot at them, too, but missed. According to prosecutor Harold Jewett, Hamilton continued shooting until his gun was empty and he was forced to surrender. Moffett was arrested a short time later in a nearby backyard.
He and Hamilton were convicted in 2007 of first-degree murder, three counts of second-degree robbery, one count of car theft, multiple firearms enhancements and a special circumstances charge that they killed a peace officer. Hamilton was also found guilty of two counts of attempted murder for firing at the two officers who went to help Lasater and a special circumstances allegation that he killed Lasater while lying in wait.
Hamilton was sentenced to death and Moffett, who was not eligible for the death penalty because he was 17, was sentenced to life without the possibility of parole. He later appealed his sentence and, in November 2010, the First District Court of Appeal overturned the special circumstances charge of killing a peace officer. According to the appellate court’s opinion, Moffett could not be convicted of killing a peace officer because he did not act with the required intent.
The appeals court sent the case back to Contra Costa County Superior Court for re-sentencing. Pittsburg police Capt. Brian Addington, who spoke at the hearing along with Lasater’s widow, mother and brother, said that he still thinks about Lasater every day and remembers the shooting every time he sends an officer out to make an arrest.
Lasater’s murder “changed the culture of the Pittsburg Police Department, it’s changed our history, it’s changed how officers act, it’s changed how officers react. I know it’s changed me,” Addington said. Lasater’s brother, James Lasater, cried and cursed at Moffett, saying that he has shown no remorse for his crimes and should never be given the possibility of parole.
Lasater’s widow Jo Ann Lasater said she was pregnant when her husband was killed. Their son is now 6 years old and talks about his father every day. She said she knows that Moffett was not the person who shot her husband, but he participated in the events that led to his murder. “The decisions they made that day destroyed my family,” Jo Ann Lasater said. “Alexander Hamilton killed my husband, but without Andrew Moffett, that never would have happened,” Jo Ann Lasater said.
Moffett was convicted of murder under the state’s felony murder rule, which holds all participants of certain felonies equally responsible when someone is killed in the commission of the underlying crime, which in Moffett’s case was the hold-up at Raley’s.
Lasater’s mother Phyllis Loya also said she had not seen Moffett show any remorse for his crimes and that he has continued to claim that his conviction was the result of a corrupt system rather than take responsibility for his actions. “I do not want my grandchild in the future to worry about going to a parole hearing and face that remorseless individual,” Loya Lasater said.
She asked the judge to sentence Moffett to life without the possibility of parole “because that’s the sentence he earned and deserves.” Jewett said that Moffett is “the person who put in motion the chain of events that led to Larry Lasater’s death.” He said that although Moffett was 17 at the time, he has long since become an adult. “There is no remorse in this man,” Jewett said. “There is no hope for mitigation, there is no hope for rehabilitation. He shows none of those capabilities.”
“I’m innocent. I got a right to plead my innocence,” Moffett, now 24, said. He asked the court to acknowledge that he did not get a fair trial. Moffett’s attorney Martin Martinez argued that Moffett should be given leniency because he was a juvenile when Lasater was killed. He asked the court to sentence him to 25 years to life in prison, which would give him the possibility of parole in the future.
“Locking up Andrew for the rest of his life does not accomplish what everyone in this courtroom wants, which is for Officer Lasater to walk into this room today,” Martinez said. Judge Laurel Brady re-sentenced Moffett to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
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